UCLA officials and student leaders discussed ways to address international students’ concerns at a forum held Friday.
Attendees of the International Student Leaders Forum discussed how UCLA leaders can increase collaboration between cultural groups, help international students integrate with American culture and improve resources currently available for them.
The forum was organized by the USAC president’s Committee of International Relations, said USAC President Danny Siegel. Siegel said he created the committee this year in order for USAC to better engage with international students and give them representation in student government.
“UCLA has 3,700 international students, but in the past USAC has not really interacted with and listened to international students,” he said.
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The forum began with presentations by administrators and undergraduate student government officers on common issues international students face and resources cultural groups can benefit from.
Amy Pojar, the assistant director of the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars presented the findings from a 2014 survey international students took. She said 60 percent of international students at UCLA reported having friends from different backgrounds while 40 percent indicated they mostly had friends from their own cultural background. Pojar said she would like more international students to interact with individuals from different backgrounds.
USAC Internal Vice President Sabrina Zeigler gave an introduction to her office and talked about resources her office can provide for cultural groups, many of which host events and program for international students. She also talked about SOLE Mates, a program her office is working to implement that would pair student groups with an IVP liaison to help them navigate UCLA policies.
The forum also featured a panel discussion with Dean of Students Maria Blandizzi and several international student leaders.
Blandizzi said alumni networks can help international students find jobs. She said international students sometimes have difficulty finding employment because their visa status does not automatically allow them to work in the United States.
“We have alumni in big cities all over the world and we have international student alumni who live here in the U.S.,” she said. “They were in your shoes and they can help you.”
Blandizzi also encouraged international student groups to bridge divisions between different cultural groups by co-hosting events and working together to address issues that affect all international students.
“Instead of having each cultural group independently try to tackle all the problems international students face, why not work together to better solve these problems?” she said.
Neil Deramchi, president of EuroBruins, said that while cultural groups generally focus on helping international students feel at home, they should also help them enjoy American culture.
“A lot of (international) students choose to come to UCLA to experience American culture,” she said.
Deramchi encouraged cultural groups to host events that students from different cultural backgrounds can attend, like trips to explore LA.
Some of the student leaders who attended the forum said they thought the event was a good start to get international student leaders together.
ZuYi Ray, president of the Malaysian Student Association, said the event helped him think about issues he had not considered before.
“I liked some of the topics discussed including how to better integrate international students,” he said. “As cultural groups, I don’t think we think about that often.”
Xinghong Tang, vice president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said she thought the forum helped her club think about initiatives they can work with other cultural groups on.
“We had some good discussion (today) but we still have a long way to go,” she said.
Jack Guo, the director of the Committee of International Relations, said the committee has begun working on several initiatives to help international students and plans to use feedback from the forum.
Guo said the committee created a peer helper program over the summer to connect incoming international students with peer helpers who speak their native language. He said students would be able to contact the peer helpers through the committee’s Facebook page.
“These (peer helpers) are there just to give advice on life and how to navigate UCLA,” he added. “It’s just an additional resource for international students when they prepare to attend UCLA.”
The committee is also working with the UCLA Writing Center to hire trained tutors to help international students who are not used to writing in English, Guo said.
Guo said he thinks UCLA and USAC have not generally integrated international students into the campus community, but he thinks this committee will help change that.
“International students are such a large group so it’s unacceptable that they didn’t have any representation in USAC until now,” he said.